Seeing the people bundled up and happy made it so much more meaningful.
For a few weeks now, I have been watching Facebook posts from our local volunteer fire departments – Company 1, Company 2, and Company 4 – as they took their apparatus out into the communities for what some of them are calling “quarantine drive-bys.”
Started by Company 1 but quickly embraced by the other two stations, this endeavor involved the fire stations parading through neighborhoods in the districts they serve. They let the neighborhoods know they are coming with estimated arrival times on Facebook and updates with their movements, delays, or, as has happened a few times, cancellations because they are called to service.
Last week, while working on a story about how the fire and rescue department has been doing in the last few weeks, I spoke with Company 1 president Brenda Breon, who first suggested the idea of the drive-bys, and asked her if she would mind me riding along on their next ride, which fell on May 6. Proud of what her station and the other two stations are doing to reach out and bring smiles to the community, she readily agreed.
The ride started off with a slight delay as some of the firefighters needed to respond to a motor vehicle accident, a reminder from the get-go of the critical role they play in our community. But start we did, and we were off driving to Mountain View Road and the many roads around it. I was in the truck with Brenda, while the fire engine driving behind us carried firefighters Glenn Oakley and T.W. Crowder, probationary firefighter Ben Nowacki, and Powhatan High School Firefighter I students Gabrielle Martin and Garrett Albert.
To be honest, I was a little worried my presence had jinxed the ride when we first began. For the first several minutes, the only people we saw were ones obviously out doing yard work or taking out the trash. Not knowing how many streets we would be traveling, I worried we wouldn’t see anyone at all. Part of the reason I wondered this was because it was a bit chilly – the temperature was in the mid-50s – and standing outside waiting for the truck and fire engine to drive by might have been unpleasant for some.
But after several minutes and a few turns, we passed a family that was out waiting and excited to see the firefighters. The father thanked the volunteers for their service and then thanked them again when the engine blew its horn to the delight of the children.
We passed another family waiting on a corner – David and Alicia Amos and their daughter Beauly, who told me she would be turning 9 this past Sunday (a belated happy birthday, Beauly!) and seemed thrilled to see the fire engine.
From there, the sightings continued. We saw families parked in vehicles at the ends of their driveways, people bundled up in blankets on their porches, and even more out in their yards or driveways in coats and blankets. There was definitely a chill in the air that night, so kudos for community spirit beating out a little discomfort.
Each time we passed by people, whether they were obviously waiting for the firefighters or not, Brenda made sure to yell out a friendly greeting. More than once I listened as she reassured citizens that the fire and rescue department is “here if you need us” and offered wishes that they “stay safe.” She was meticulous about leading the two-vehicle caravan down every street where the engine could fit – and maybe one where it barely fit – to make sure anyone who wanted to see them got a chance.
Seeing the families out and the young children excited to wave at the firefighters was a pleasure. We also had a fun moment when we drove by Glenn’s house, where his wife and children were waiting outside. Glenn presented her with a lovely bouquet of flowers – one of many donated by Community Life Church to the station – and she looked thrilled with the surprise.
I had already spoken to Brenda earlier about the neighborhood visits and why they started for a fire and rescue story (see page 1A), but, during one of the lulls, I asked her why she was enjoying the outings so much.
“I love dealing with people,” she replied. “Honestly, if we can take their minds off of all this for even a minute, it is worth it for me.”
After the ride, I posed the same question to some of the others on the Wednesday night crew.
“They are fun,” Gabrielle said. “It is nice to get out and see the little kids, especially when they want you to do the sirens. They are so cute. We’ve had a few where we went out and they had signs for us, and that was nice, too.”
The groups have seen a good turnout on most of the neighborhood runs, and it is nice to see people excited, especially the children, Glenn said. Even as familiar as they are with some of the apparatus, he said his children were over the moon to see them drive by.
“The kids love it anyway. They love coming around, but, right now, with all the [COVID-19] restrictions, it’s members only at the station,” he said.
Like many, I will admit isolation has definitely gotten to me in the last few weeks. It’s why I so love writing about the things Powhatan residents are doing to help and support each other during a difficult time. Because sometimes, you just need someone to say, “We’re here if you need us and stay safe.”
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.